Flowers are the ultimate Valentine’s gift so in honour of the season Andrea K. Paterson shares a story about an orchid that taught her a lesson of love.
Valentine’s Day will see an explosion of flowers, gifted to symbolize the perfect unfurling of romantic love. The flowers stand in for “I love you,” and while the sentiment is beautiful, the flowers rarely hold meaning in and of themselves. It’s the statement of love that has meaning; it’s the lover standing behind the bouquet that we turn our attention to. The flowers go into a vase and we admire them for a few days until the petals fall, bruised, to the floor and then we forget the green stems and delicate stamen. This Valentine’s Day I will tell you a story about loving a flower — a flower that gave itself.
While suffering through one of my first grey Vancouver winters, I was feeling the tug of melancholy and loneliness. The days went by in monochrome and I began to forget what colours looked like as I endured endless stretches of sunless skies. Passing a flower shop one afternoon I spotted a collection of potted orchids and I was drawn to them in an inexplicable way. Their wide petals looked like faces with the flicking tongues of serpents. I picked out a magenta orchid, feeling that the plant would brighten the shadowy corners of my small university dorm. I carried it home with extraordinary care, sheltering the flowers from the damp wind. I placed the pot on a table by the window where I worked on essays and could see it every day.
The orchid seemed to like the spot and thrived in the diffused light. As the days went by I developed a relationship with the plant. I watered it carefully and sparingly. I touched the silky petals and watched in amazement as new buds swelled then opened over night like some strange miracle. I loved the orchid for its simplicity, for its exotic beauty, and for the colour it brought into my days. Eventually it responded to my care and love by growing a brand new stalk that sprouted even more buds. I am told that this is a rare occurrence and I felt that the orchid was rewarding me for my focused attention.
The orchid lived happily on my table all winter and through the spring. In the summer of that year, I moved from my dorm to a new apartment that I shared with the man I eventually married. The orchid came with me and I set it on our dining room table where I hoped it would be happy. As it turned out the sun there was too direct, and a week later my orchid was in dire condition. The leaves were burnt, the flowers shriveled and drooping. I tried to save it. I moved it to a new location, picked off the dead flowers, but it was too late. My orchid was dead and I experienced what many might say was a disproportionate amount of grief. I stood one afternoon in the hallway of my apartment, my then boyfriend standing with me. I held the pot with the brown twisted sticks of the orchid sticking out and I cried.
“This is so stupid!” I said through my tears. “Who cries over a flower?” But my boyfriend held me and said that he didn’t think it was stupid at all,; he thought it was lovely that I cared so much. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I married him — because he didn’t laugh at my grief for even the smallest life.
I wonder sometimes if the orchid died because it knew its purpose had been served. It saw me through the dark and lonely days, but then when it saw I was cared for by a loving partner and it would no longer hold the core of my attention, it left me. It gave itself completely and died, and I couldn’t help but see something profound in its life. If only we could give of ourselves so freely, blooming without shame, flowering until our time comes to return to the earth.
When the orchid died I cut the stems carefully into three inch pieces. I let them dry then tied them into a bundle with red ribbon. I painted the stems with copper glaze and attached a hook to the ornament. It hung in my dining room, an artful reminder of the flower that was lost.
I have received bouquets occasionally in my life and have been grateful to the givers for showing their love and compassion through the beauty of soft petals. But the orchid is the only flower I have loved for itself, just for being. How peaceful the world might be if we could look at each other that way — as rare and delicate lives that deserve our gentlest care and attention. On Valentine’s Day, as the world fills with flowers, I will remember the orchid and aspire to love purely then wait to see what grows from love, the most sacred of all plantings.
“Orchid” Lida Rose @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.